Feeding the Family: Eating Out

Throughout the Feeding the Family series that I’ve been doing (and before I even started it) I’ve had many of you ask if our family EVER eats out since you never see it on my menu plans.

As I’ve mentioned before, our food budget for our family of six is between $500-$550 each month. That amount includes everything we eat for the month…so there really isn’t any room in there for eating out. 

Yeah, we’re pretty sad and deprived around here.  Instead of eating out, we are forced to choke down steamy pot roasts with carrots, potatoes and gravy…or homemade popcorn chicken with ranch potato wedges…or delicious homemade pizza, made to order. It’s a tough life, but somehow, we’ll try to deal with it. :)

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YES, there ARE times that I’m worn out, tired and JUST DON’T FEEL LIKE COOKING.  I know, you’re shocked. The Heavenly Homemaker doesn’t always feel like putting on her happy little apron and cooking a delicious meal for her adoring family. 

Even when I don’t feel like cooking, grabbing fast food for our family is just really not an option. Even “cheap” fast food can cost $25-$35 to fill the boys’ hollow legs (and yes, that’s without drinks, and with coupons).  

WHEN I don’t feel like cooking, we scrounge around for leftovers…or throw some  peanut butter and honey on a tortilla, eat an apple, drink a glass of milk and call it a meal. Or I just quickly make a batch of pancakes and scrambled eggs (which everyone feels is a treat at night anyway!). 

OR every once in a while, we’ll grab a couple of take and bake pizzas from Walmart for $7 each. 

Our kids do enjoy eating out and get excited about the possibilty when the opportunity arises. That means that when we actually do go to Pizza Hut to redeem their Book It coupons…our time out with them is a treasure.

Here are a few of my thoughts on eating out…or not eating out:

  • Food from restaurants is addicting. That’s because it’s often loaded with MSG and sugar, which makes you think that the french fries you’re eating are SO the best thing in the world. The next day…you’re likely to be craving more. That’s how I felt when we used to eat out a little more often. The more we ate out…..the more I wanted to eat out. Now that we practically never go out to eat, I don’t even want to anymore. (It did take me a while to get to that point, though.)
  • In my opinion…by the time we get our kids ready and out the door, into the van, buckled in, drive to the restaurant, get everyone out of the car and safely through the parking lot, find a table big enough for all of us, sit down, figure out who gets to sit by Daddy (since there are only two sides of him), figure out what we’re ordering, wait for the food, try to sit patiently while we wait for the food, try to keep everyone from spilling the food, (do I need to go on, because I’m getting tired and flustered writing this)….we may as well have stayed home and cooked a simple meal. It’s far less work.
  • Very rarely (if ever) do I walk away from a restaurant and say, “THAT was the best meal I’ve ever had”. Instead, I’m usually bummed out that I just spent $12 on a plate of something that will likely make my stomach hurt later.
  • Our boys think it is SO much fun when I decide to open “Mama’s Kitchen” for the night. That’s usually on a night we have hamburgers and onion rings or homemade chicken nuggets and fries. Justus, my assistant chef, gets out a tray and puts straws in our water (or homemade chocolate milk shakes!) and delivers them around the table. They pretend they’re getting a kids meal from “the best restaurant ever”. (I do not pay them to say that. On the contrary, usually I charge monopoly money for the meal.)

Sooo, I hope that helped to answer your questions. What are your feelings on eating out? I know some people really do enjoy it. It just doesn’t work for our family. How do you handle eating out?  What are some of your “I don’t feel like cooking but everyone needs to eat” solutions?
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This post is linked to Frugal Fridays.

P.S. Be sure to join us on Saturday for The little Green Project…and a GIVEAWAY!

Comments

  1. says

    I would love to have more ideas (for picky eaters) on what to make when I don’t feel like cooking. We eat out WAY too much and it is just not working for us physically OR financially. We usually feel so YUCKY when we eat out! Can you help? I LOVED this post, thank you!

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  2. says

    I know what you mean about eating out. To me getting my 4 little ones ages; 4, 3, 1 and 7 mnths old) seems more of a hassle. After I eat (which is usually something cheap) I feel so guilty that I I spent money on something I didn’t like. Don’t get me wrong I love the fact that I don’t have to clean up, but lately it’s been, “let just find leftovers instead”.

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  3. Cheryl H says

    Thanks for the encouragement and tips! I think having a menu plan is a HUGE help in avoiding the “I don’t know what to make for dinner” or the “I don’t feel like cooking” tonight or the “I don’t have anything to cook tonight” scenarios.
    However, I think on the nights we’re just weary of cooking, prayer helps…to ask God for grace and strength to handle that task, clean up that task, etc :) That’s something I’m working on. Also to realize there are seasons…and with littles, there are some nights where making the meal we planned (or any meal for that matter!) is just too tough…so yeah, sandwiches, soup, pancakes, eggs, leftovers, etc. I think is OK!! :)

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  4. says

    We hardly EVER eat out… mostly because of allergies. It saves our budget, and our stress level, and makes the times my hubby and I go out much more of a treat. I love your idea of a “restaurant” at home!

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  5. says

    This was a really great post! I often long to eat out and you are right it is not a relaxing experience unless it is a date that DH takes me on. Bravo you have converted me to be a stay at home eater.

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  6. says

    I really, really agree with you when you say you feel guilty about paying $12.00 for a plate and later your stomach hurts. I think that the more you eat “natural” foods, the more you become sensitive to those foods with “unnatural” ingredients. We hardly ever eat out but today was the exception. Guess what? One of my kids is having leg pains (allergic reaction), another is bouncing off of the walls, and my stomach hurts! Now I’m questioning myself as to why in the world did we go out to eat in the first place! I couldn’t help but wonder where the cow was raised (that made up my burger) and most importantly, what was it fed during it’s short life?

    I want to work on making a lot of convenience foods and getting them in the freezer for those times I’m tempted to eat out.

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  7. says

    It took me awhile to convince my husband that running out to pick up burgers or a pizza was not going to save any time, even on nights when I was running behind and feeling stressed out. He always wanted to rescue me by getting take-out, when what I really needed was a little help getting started, and a promise to do the dishes afterwards!

    Eventually I got organized, and my cooking got good enough that eating out just doesn’t sound yummy anymore. We do get In-n-Out burgers sometimes, mainly life has suddenly gotten crazy and everyone’s cranky — AND my hubby has a craving. :)

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  8. says

    When you have young kids eating out becomes more hassle than it’s worth. I end up spending the entire meal trying to entertain my kids with crackers and drinking from a straw (they’re not quite 2, so that’s the entertainment at this point) and pretty much can’t carry on a normal conversation with whatever other adult I happen to be with (usually Hubs, but sometimes my parents). Let alone actually choke down some food myself. It’s certainly not the same relaxing experience that it was back when we were dating.

    My solution, find a babysitter and leave the kids at home. This while expensive, also allows me to relax and have fun with Hubs.

    Otherwise? I pull meals from my freezer when I don’t feel like cooking. When I cook I usually try to cook at least twice as much as I need for that meal, and then freeze the leftovers. That way I have a freezer FULL of good things to eat that will take no time to prepare, and little time to reheat. For lots of great freezable recipe ideas feel free to check out my blog. :)

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  9. Brenda says

    For the most part, my kitchen closes for Sunday lunch, because as my sister-in-law Shawna insists, it is a day of rest! :) We don’t go *out*, though – we go through the Chinese drive-thru. For around $10 we get enough food for the five of us. We bring it home and eat here, which is a fraction of the cost of buffets for five!

    I *have* been known on occasion to hit the Runza drive-thru for a kids meal when my kids are off at school. Shhhh – don’t tell them! Otherwise… we eat home cooked 95% of the time.

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  10. says

    You are so right about fast food meals costing a fortune to fill up the family. And then, like you said, eating out makes you just want to do it more and more. Since we have cut eating out out of our budget, we do not miss it. We have on ocassion went out since, but when we leave I’m sad because I’ve just spent the equivalent of half of a weeks groceries on one meal, that wasn’t all too fantastic (or healthy).

    Great point on the time factor of getting everyone ready/sat down…

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  11. Barbara says

    About 4 years ago, my (self-employed) husband’s largest client dropped him and we had to make drastic budget changes. The first thing to go was eating out – I suddenly realized there are 21 possible meals a week and we had been eating out 11 of them – every week!

    I started making a dinner only menu and eased myself into figuring out how to prepare 3 meals a day. Now I make a 3-meals-a-day menu for 3 weeks at a time. I can’t tell you how much time, money and frustration this saves me!

    My family declares that I’m the bestest cook in the world – who can resist a compliment like that?! They call our restaurant at home, “Momma’s Egg House” and they love to play server – using menu pads, wearing aprons, taking orders, serving meals, etc!

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  12. says

    Great post! We also are a family of 6 and our grocery budget is $500. Going out to eat can be such a hassle with 2 kids in carseats. It just makes sense to eat at home most nights.

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  13. says

    I can count on one hand the number of times my husband and I have taken my kids to a restaurant. Not counting the extended family meals that my mom treats us to at places like Red Lobster or Olive Garden every once in awhile for birthday’s.

    I pretty much cook all of our meals. But at least every 2 weeks we order pizza, let the kids drink one pop and have a “Family Movie Night” where we all pig out in front of the TV and THAT is sooo much more fun than dragging all 3 of my kids to a restaurant where there is sure to be spills and tears..and a HUGE dent in our bank acct.

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  14. says

    We also rarely eat out (unless someone else is paying for it….LOL)
    BUT, we do budget $50 a month to do so…
    this includes my hubby grabbing a sub if he doesn’t feel like making a lunch, and us grabbing subs or take out pizza in the summer for picnics at the park… Sometimes we don’t use that budget at all and use the money for something fun, like FUN food at home that we usually don’t buy because of our grochery budget!!!!!
    I love the idea of a resteraunt… we have the kids take orders, but paying with fake money and having a waiter sounds so much fun! We maybe have to try this very soon!

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  15. says

    We eat out so rarely, that we have taken to the habit of regifting gift cards to restaurants. Partly because ordering a bowl of pasta with no sauce costs $10, partly because I enjoy cooking (usually).

    We do keep some ‘convenience’ foods on hand though. Like the little cups of applesauce…more expensive per ounce, but I can throw one in the diaper bag to feed a hungry toddler and she is obsessed with the peach applesauce. Then again, we have also been keeping a box of the sugary cereal in the car for car seat bribes. I may be a bad example, but at least I don’t have to hear a baby screaming at me while stuck in rush hour traffic and late for some appointment.

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  16. says

    we hardly eat out anymore because were on diets and it gets expensive, but when we do I can just about get a sit down restaurant meal as about as cheap as a fast food!

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  17. says

    when we eat out, its a social thing – with friends or family.

    very rarely do i grab something on the way home from work – and if i do its because I won’t be getting home until 7:30 or 8 and even getting a precooked meal out of the freezer would take too long to thaw/warm.

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  18. says

    Hello,

    You’ve made some really great points. As a woman without children, I loved reading your recap of a dinner out — it really IS more work than making a simple dinner. Yikes!

    We like the Walmart take and bake pizzas. I keep a few of these in the freezer and will pop one in the oven on Friday nights sometime. It doesn’t even really count as cooking in my book. Plus for my husband and I, it’s 7 bucks which is much cheaper than eating out.

    Take Care,

    Trixie

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  19. Sharon says

    We are a family of six. I enjoy an occasional meal out, maybe every other month, and I try to budget for this. We enjoy the ready made pizzas from Wal Mart, too. Hubby would rather eat at home than anywhere else, tho. :)

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  20. says

    Oh, I like this post. This is something my husband and I have struggled with in the past. And I TOTALLY agree with you that the more you eat out the more you want to. We’ve gotten a lot better over the years,as we’ve had more children, and as we’ve gotten more serious about eating healthy. Thanks so much for this post. It’s a real encouragement!

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  21. says

    I love the idea of the kitchen restaurant with monopoly money. that’s a great idea and would help kids with counting money and learning the value of money. Interesting…

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  22. says

    We eat out rarely. I try to find copycat recipes and then use healthier ingredients on top of that. Definitely tastes better and healthier for us! WE’ve already tried several recipes from your cook books and then the ranch potatoes just the other night. :D YUMMY!

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  23. says

    I loved your second point. That is so me! With 4 kids it can be hard to keep everyone content while waiting for food. I’m constantly saying “don’t play with the sugar packets or Naomi, quit licking the table it’s dirty, or stopping making a mess with the napkin” Then there’s the bathroom…much rather them skip that part. After we’re finished I always feel compelled to clean up as much as I can so the waitress does have such a mess and think we’re hogs. It takes too much work for me. (physical but more mental) If anything I like ordering pizza in.
    Love your blog!! :)

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  24. says

    Wonderful post. I am glad we are not alone in the eating-out opt-out! Although we eat a vegan diet and I eat a raw food vegan diet, you and I seem to share a passion for wholesome, healthy, at-home food.

    Eating out for us also compromises our health, costs way too much, and takes a lot of time. I would much rather invite some friends over for a shared meal and rejoice in the goodness of God’s gifts.

    Also, for those “too tired” nights, we have green smoothies, fruit, or left-overs.

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  25. says

    Our family of 7 rarely ever eats out – only when we are on a trip and usually we pack food! However, as my husband says, I can make anything we want to “eat out” here at home AND make it taste better for less! Why would we want to go out to eat? Plus, as a vegetarian family… it is not always easy to find something you want/can to eat.

    I usually have a menu plan which is a huge help, but if I am too tired to cook, my go to meal is usually spaghetti or a veggie burger with salad.

    I enjoyed your post!

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  26. soonermomof7 says

    Thanks for the great post, Laura. Simplicity works!

    Our problem is lunch on a busy day when we’re out and about from one activity to the next around lunchtime. We don’t always have bread made for sandwiches. What can we do? There are 7 kids to worry about.

    Meat and fresh, raw veggies, pasta with veggies and cheese, or breakfast (as you mentioned) are easy dinners at our house.

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  27. Sarah says

    This is something that we (I) struggle with. I actually love to eat out, but I’m not really sure why. I feel guilty after about the money, and usually I have stuffed myself so I don’t feel good and have no energy. I have already thought that for the month of April we (I) will try to make all meals at home. I am definitely going to do it!

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  28. says

    You are an inspiration to my own personal attempts at not eating out. Living in the city, it’s so easy to give in to the fast food restaurant. Thank you for giving me more fuel to continue with my commitment!

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  29. says

    I am glad to hear that my children are not the only ones that fight over daddy! I was starting to feel a little lonely about the whole thing. I am soooo glad that they love their daddy though!

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  30. says

    I hear you loud and clear. We eat out once a month and make a big production out of it. However, it is exhausting to say the least. I love eating at home! And you are so right about the $12 tummy ache. We only really go to a couple of restaurants. One is a local pizza place that has a to die for whole grain crust. Even “nice” places can leave you feeling yucky. I don’t understand why they need all that yuckiness in there in the first place.

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  31. says

    I almost always feel like we wasted money when we go out. Especially when places charge $12 for a plate of pasta! My husband and I go out for date nights, but I try to find places that make food I don’t like to make or I don’t make well. We go through phases, not going out for months, and then we start going out again. I could definitely live without it.
    Toni

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  32. says

    Thank you so much for this encouraging post! I am currently a recovering fast food addict. My kids could live without it. But, I love it! And, you’re thoughts on how it is addicting really makes sense for me.

    I haven’t bought food from any sort of restaurant in about 3 weeks. A huge step for me (and my family). Making dinner every night hasn’t been too bad, but trying to also include lunch has been tough.

    Your post just gave me a little bit more gumption to keep going. Thank you!!

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  33. Step says

    Wow! Lots of comments and I’m chiming in late. Add us to the rarely eat out club too and for all of the reasons you stated — health, budget, and less hassle. I really do love to cook, so this isn’t a problem for me. However, I do have my days where I just don’t feel like cooking, so here are my go-to meals:

    * brinner! That’s when mom makes breakfast food for dinner. The usual fare — eggs, German puff oven pancake with fruit on the side (super easy).

    * soup and sandwiches (which just so happens to be tonight’s fare — dh and eldest ds are at a hockey party, so it’s just me and my other two children). I always have homemade chicken stock frozen and on hand to whip up a quick soup.

    * raid my freezer. I like to make up an extra tray of lasagne, mac and cheese, or homemade chicken nuggets that I can just pull out, thaw and bake for dinner.

    * pasta and sauce. Again, I make a big batch of marinara sauce every 3 months and can or freeze it. Pasta is a pantry staple that I always have on hand. Really, it’s hardly cooking to throw that meal together.

    * $5 hot-n-ready pizza from Little Ceaser’s if we’re in a real pinch. Fortunately, there is one not 1/8 of a mile away from my house, so dh can grab a couple on the way home from work.

    I find that if you do a little planning ahead for the freezer meals, pasta sauce, and soup stock, those “I don’t feel like cooking” days are not much of an issue for me anymore.

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  34. says

    I wish I had more time to comment on this excellent post! I feel the same as you and I rarely enjoy a meal out. As time goes on I prefer to eat @ home rather than go out! Love your blog and this is a great post!

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  35. says

    Thanks for the great post. I just might bookmark it and keep it handy for those times when I really just want to eat out! (I’m usually not able to give in, but maybe this post will give me a wee more motivation.)

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  36. Danielle says

    We don’t eat at fast food restaurants anymore. My downfall is Chinese food! My husband and i do go on date nights to restaurants… we’re near Hershey, PA, so we’ll go to one of the restaurants there.

    If I could only make Chinese food like they do at the restaurants…

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